A SECRET network of former and present members of South Africa's security and intelligence services is sabotaging the national quest for a peaceful transition to majority rule, according to a former high-ranking military intelligence officer.
Gert Hugo, a retired colonel in the Department of Military Intelligence of the South African Defense Force (SADF), said in a series of interviews with the Monitor that this secret network - long termed the "Third Force" by black leaders - has intimidated and assassinated anti-apartheid activists and fomented black-on-black violence.
In an effort to demonstrate the existence of a Third Force, human-rights lawyers and civil-rights workers have assembled a dossier of material about security-force involvement in promoting political violence, and several people who claim they were former operatives have emerged to give details of their roles. But Colonel Hugo, who says he gathered information that led to illegal covert operations, is the most senior official to come forward.
According to Hugo's account:
* Some of the South African military and covert-operations units engaged in South Africa's external wars of destabilization during the rule of former President Pieter Botha are now waging an internal war against those they continue to deem enemies of South Africa, especially the African National Congress (ANC) and its supporters.
* This network is directed by officers at the top levels of the country's military establishment and is the outgrowth of the security apparatus that under former President Botha effectively ran the country through an inner cabinet called the State Security Council.
* Its goal is to ensure that power remains in the hands of white South Africans, even in a new order where blacks assume the majority in government.
The ANC has long alleged that the country's security forces have promoted violence among blacks, and, in the wake of the brutal, black-on-black massacre at Boipatong township in June, broke off talks with the government. The ANC demands that President Frederik de Klerk rein in the security forces and says the government's failure to do so led to Boipatong.
President De Klerk has reluctantly acknowledged the possibility that some rogue individuals or groups may be engaged in such activities and has disbanded a few units accused of excesses. Until this month he had not taken steps to identify and curtail the so-called Third Force, but on Aug. 10 he accepted in principle a United Nations proposal that an independent commission investigate the activities of the security forces. And in recent days De Klerk has made resolute statements about uncovering those res ponsible for abuses.
"It is like a headless monster," Hugo says of the network of agents, soldiers, and police officers who are part of what he also calls the Third Force. A career soldier
An Afrikaner and a career soldier whose parents both served in the military, Hugo quit the SADF in July 1990 to head the intelligence wing of the Ciskei Defense Force (CDF). (Profile of Hugo, below.) The government of the Ciskei, a nominally independent homeland where members of the Xhosa-speaking tribal group live, has emerged as a key ally of the government in its attempt to assemble a coalition of forces to challenge the ANC.
But Hugo exposed a plan by officers of his former organization, the SADF's Department of Military Intelligence (DMI), to manipulate the controversial Ciskeian leader Oupa Gqozo.
After Hugo broke ranks and revealed the plan at a press conference in July 1991, he was charged and convicted of stealing $7,000, funds that were part of his budget as head of military intelligence for the CDF. Hugo asserts that the case was brought to punish him for publicizing the DMI plan.
In the trial, Hugo pleaded guilty to the charge, saying he inherited a system that lacked financial control for many years. He argued that the nature of clandestine activities had blurred limits of spending.
Hugo was given a six-year suspended jail sentence, and an attempt by the CDF to court-martial him failed because the civilian court refused to convict Hugo of disobeying a lawful command - a prerequisite for suspension from the military. He was dismissed by the CDF in July of last year, after his conviction, but he plans to sue the CDF for breach of contract.
He is now in hiding. Top-level protection
Hugo says the story of the Third Force begins in the 1980s, as the black uprising against apartheid gained momentum. The Department of Military Intelligence and the SADF's Special Forces - enjoying the top-level protection of then President Botha's powerful State Security Council (SSC) - mounted hit-and-run and assassination operations in South Africa's black-ruled neighboring countries to sabotage the ANC and those who supported it.
As the black rebellion spread, Hugo says, similar tactics were used to counter the political resistance to apartheid, through covert units that operated with state sanction but had built-in mechanisms to keep them at arm's length from political leaders.
"In preparation for [a strategy called] `Total War' under the state of emergency from mid-1986," Hugo claims, "these units were cut off from their sources of intelligence [and oversight] and were told they must identify and act against political targets. There was less and less accountability and now it is out of control."
Several of the covert units - such as a Special Forces element called the Civil Cooperation Bureau; the South African Police counterinsurgency unit known as "Koevoet," which is Afrikaans for crowbar; the 32nd Battalion of the SADF Special Forces, called the "Buffalo" battalion; and Army intelligence units in the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg areas called "Hammer" groups - have been disbanded over the past two years as a result of the exposure of their activities in South African newspapers.
But Hugo says that formally disbanding these units has not stopped them, because they were designed to operate on their own in the first place. Secret document
Hugo's assertions are reinforced by a secret military document obtained by the Monitor - an intelligence assessment for "contingency operational planning." It is dated Jan. 17, 1991 - a year after De Klerk legalized the ANC, freed Nelson Mandela, and supposedly set the country on a peaceful path away from apartheid.
The document, which is signed by Col. E. P. Hammond, an officer commanding a section of the Eastern Cape region, is a classic plan of action against an "enemy" - identified as the ANC and its allies.
The introduction to the document says: "Despite the government's reform initiatives, which are part of the political strategy en route to the so-called `New South Africa,' elements or forces continue to threaten good order and the welfare of RSA [Republic of South Africa] by means of violence, intimidation, and socio-economic retrogression in order to pressurize the government."
The document then outlines a detailed plan to counter the ANC through military operations. A key element of the strategy is based on "own forces" and "force multipliers" - surrogate black groups that the SADF can rely on to join the battle against the ANC. Under a section on counterintelligence problems, the document advises that "own forces" can be deployed to "avoid, mislead, or neutralize" the enemy's intelligence capabilities.
For the past year, Hugo has been cooperating with civil rights workers investigating the activities of the military in recruiting, training, and arming such surrogate black armies, a nationwide effort disguised as church-based "adult education" programs. The effort, documented in government investigations, was developed by DMI's Directorate of Communications.
Hugo says the education camps, operated by front companies, have been visited by military intelligence officers who identify individuals and groups for further training as "own forces."
The "own forces" strategy was behind the government's much-publicized clandestine support for the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and Inkatha's alleged promotion of violence in the black townships. It was also behind the Pretoria-funded Kwazulu Police Force, the law-and-order wing of the semi-autonomous Zulu homeland.
According to Hugo, other examples include the Black Cats in Wesselton, the township adjoining the Eastern Transvaal town of Ermelo; the Witdoeke, a vigilante group that terrorized residents of Cape squatter camps in the early 1980s; the Uma Afrika vigilantes in the townships of the Eastern Cape; the African Democratic Movement in the Ciskei; and the Five Million Gang, a criminal gang that terrorized anti-apartheid activists in Maokeng township in Orange Free State province. A `signal message'
Recent reports about one of South Africa's key military intelligence officials support Hugo's claim that the so-called Third Force has supporters at the highest levels of the country's military establishment.
The SADF's chief of staff intelligence (CSI), Gen. Christoffel van der Westhuizen, has been at the center of a political controversy since a report appeared in the anti-apartheid newspaper New Nation last May. The weekly published a June 1985 "signal message" signed by then-Brigadier van der Westhuizen, requesting authorization from Botha's SSC for the "permanent removal from society" of anti-apartheid activist Matthew Goniwe and two of his colleagues.
Three weeks after the message was sent to Pretoria, the burned and mutilated bodies of Goniwe and three other activists were found in the bush outside the Indian Ocean city of Port Elizabeth near the wreck of their automobile. Investigations in the case are still under way.
Van der Westhuizen is also said to have founded the covert Army unit called Hammer, which has been implicated in the South African media in the death of Goniwe and his colleagues. Hugo says the Hammer unit, which reportedly engaged in unorthodox practices outside of normal military oversight, is an example of a Third Force unit gone out of control.
Last Thursday De Klerk ordered police to "spare no effort" in hunting Goniwe's killer and expressed confidence in an inquiry into the anti-apartheid leader's death headed by Eastern Cape Attorney-General Michael Hodgen. When asked whether he had the same confidence in Van der Westhuizen, De Klerk replied: "I have full confidence in the procedures we have applied in this regard."
An independent source within the security establishment told the Monitor that Van der Westhuizen's imminent dismissal or early retirement is widely rumored at Military Intelligence headquarters at Fort Klapperkop in Pretoria and that he had left no doubt in a recent briefing that he was on his way out.
Since the message bearing the general's name was published in May, there has been no attempt by the military to deny its authenticity and no attempt to defend Van der Westhuizen. He has not commented on the report.
Hugo says De Klerk has been unable to act against Van der Westhuizen because a broader scandal might ensue. "De Klerk and his ministers don't know even half of what is still going on today but they are implicated because many of them were part of the system under Botha and they are part of the system today," Hugo says.
He says De Klerk must grant officials, soldiers, agents, and police officers amnesty in exchange for full disclosure about the Third Force and any other illegal activities. The individuals involved, Hugo suggests, are motivated less by a patriotic master plan than by their fear of losing privileges in a new political system and of retribution for past illegal acts carried out in the name of apartheid.
But for now, say Hugo and other observers, De Klerk is a virtual hostage to the network.
"If he acts against those who are undermining his initiatives he runs the risk of alienating the security forces as a whole," says a Western diplomat. "If his political initiatives fail, he will be even more dependent on the security forces.